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Maersk raises ‘table stakes’ in ocean freight with online customs clearance for select European markets

( Photo: Maersk/Damco )

Putting export-import documents online may make a difference between container arriving to customer on time or sitting in a warehouse.

Maersk (Nasdaq OMX: MAER) is moving to a more frictionless future in ocean freight with online customs clearance in seven European countries.

Customs clearance, an add-on feature of Maersk’s online ocean freight quoting system, raises the “table stakes” for what ocean carriers are expected to provide customers going forward.

 Maersk COO Vincent Clerc ( Photo: Maersk )
Maersk COO Vincent Clerc ( Photo: Maersk )

The ability to make export and import declarations online reduces the number of intermediaries that shippers need to deal and reduces the time spent on paperwork, said Maersk Chief Commercial Officer Vincent Clerc.

“This new one-stop-shop allows us to timely and efficiently handle export and import declarations for our customers,” Clerc said. “In other words, it saves our customers time, money and headaches.”

Henry Byers, FreightWaves’ Market Expert for international freight forwarding, said meeting delivery schedules for container goods can sometimes hinge on customs clearance. If export customs declarations are not handled efficiently, a container may have to wait for the next weekly vessel sailing.  

“When it comes to potential delays with ocean carriers, customs clearance can often be a big factor,” Byers said. “A seven-day delay to the customer at destination could end the relationship if it is a time-critical shipment.”

The service is initially available in Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. Maersk plans to roll out the service globally by the end of this year.

Maersk’s freight forwarding arm Damco provides the customs clearance, which will be an additional fee over the actual container rate.

Maersk continues to look at ancillary services in ocean freight as a growth opportunity. Earlier this year, it purchased U.S.-based customs brokerage Vandergrift in a bid to capture more customer margin.

Chief Executive Soren Skou told a conference in March that automating the ocean freight booking process as much as possible is a goal for the world’s largest ocean carrier.

The upshot, though, is that ocean freight intermediaries, who previously handled these services, will have to come up with additional services now that Maersk is offering them.

“Maersk easing this process will likely cut into these broker and forwarding roles that some of these customs brokers have been involved in for quite some time,” Byers said.

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Michael Angell, Bulk and Intermodal Editor

Michael Angell covers maritime, intermodal and related topics for FreightWaves. His interest in transportation stretches back several generations. One great-grandfather was a dray horseman along the New York waterfront and another was a railway engineer in Texas. More recently, Michael has written about the shipping industry for TradeWinds, energy markets for Oil Price Information Service, and general business topics for FactSet Mergerstat and Investor's Business Daily. When he is not stuck in the office, he enjoys tours of ports, terminals, and railyards.

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